Brave new world of tablet computing

The last two weeks were a time of revelations for me: I dropped off the stream of IT news and focused on math and lectures much more than before, time to time arguing with my university lectors. They seem to live in the computer world of late 90s (it’s Ukraine, yeah): they still moan about “redundant” gigaherzs and processor cores, about unnecessary Windows (lolwhut, who use it nowadays?) features put together by malevolent software vendors intentionally in order to get us use new hardware and so on (for me having been exposed to HN crowd for some time, this is pretty ridiculous).

One of the most outrageous claims was that “8 cores are enough for anything, increasing the amount won’t gain anything”. My first reaction was “lol, do you still live in the world of the single-core?!”, I tried to argue that “Modern systems have hundreds of threads running in parallel, wouldn’t it be nice for each of them to have a core?”, but this had been easily refuted: “Are they doing anything most of the time?” – and I had to agree that most of the time they’re blocked by some kind of IO (even now on my Core i7 8-core CPU I see only two tasks running). So I proceeded: “Yes, you are right, those computing resources are not required for the mundane user activities. And the market reflects this: it steadily diversifies, non-fastidious users moving to tablets, gamers and professionals using the desktop for the work and so on”. I felt proud: I had been bringing a new vision to those old-school people.

Then I was discussing my programming projects with my peer, showing it on my Nexus 7 on Github (my laptop broke recently, so I am forced to use the tablet), I’d shown Terminal IDE, c4droid, Limbo PC emulator with Kolibri OS and my own COSEC inside. The feeling was: it’s so much of a toy, not a real productive environment, it can so much and still is very far from good enough to do anything creative. I returned home and read news: Intel abandons the motherboard manufacturing, Dell shows an “office” tablet.

The brave new world of tablet computing is awfully hostile to usual programmer’s activities (keyboard, the old clunky mechanical keyboard with mechanical buttons, I really, really miss you on slick modern gadgets): do you want to write a program? You have to go through the pain of software keyboard (even if it’s Hacker’s keyboard), you have to do programming inside a separate application, without hope to do something system-wide until it’s packed into APK and installed (coming from Linux, where programs breath with cooperation and gluing together, Android apps are a bunch of black boxes, each on its own), you have to sign every program in order to comply with the wallen garden rules, you can’t install another operating system to your gadget easily (free bootloaders anyone?) – it seems that the brave new world of tablets does everything to make hacking and fiddling around more complicated and hindered.

The problem is: how will the new generation of hackers emerge? How to support the desire to know what’s inside of complex systems (be it hardware or software) for a generation that will not have seen a desktop computer? How to grow the ability to tinker about? How to save it from suffocation in the world of fences and locks?

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